Marriage Fix With A Filipino Leads Woman To House Arrest

CHICAGO (jGLi) – Latrice Wilson was a co-worker of Filipino American Maria Flordelis Pulido-Cruz at the Cook County Traffic Court in Chicago, Illinois, where Cruz earned $38,000 a year.

Their workplace relationship took a deeper turn when Ms. Cruz asked Ms. Wilson, 38, if she was willing to marry Filipino Ernesto Isip for $10,000.

On Wednesday, Feb. 23, Ms. Wilson, who would later lose her good-paying job after she was charged with marriage fraud, paid for her indiscretion when she was sentenced by United States District Court Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan of the Northern District of Illinois to six months home confinement with electronic monitoring device tacked in her ankle.

Ms. Wilson was also sentenced to a two-year probation, to pay $1,000 fine and to perform a 20-hour community service if she does not have a job. If she has a job, she does not have to perform community service.

It all started when Maria Cruz got a call from Isip’s Filipino wife, Arlene Isip (a.k.a. Arlene Hernandez), who was referred to Cruz by Filipino American lawyer Manny Aguja’s secretary and co-defendant Celeste Ligutan-Lopez.

According to court documents, Isip and his wife, Arlene, were married in the Philippines. They came to the United States in 2003 and settled in the northern neighboring state of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

When Arlene, a nursing graduate, started to “find ways in which they could remain in the country,” an acquaintance referred her and her husband to Manny Aguja, who told them it was difficult for him to sponsor their stay in the United States.

When Manny Aguja suggested to them that the easiest way to remain in the U. S. was for them to marry a U.S. citizen and they had to file for divorce first, Arlene said she did not know any U.S. citizen to marry.

At this point, Manny asked his secretary for the phone number of Maria Cruz and gave the number to Arlene.

MANNY AGUJA ALSO ACTED AS DIVORCE LAWYER

After Arlene called Maria, Maria told Arlene’s husband Ernesto if she could give her $10,000 that will be paid to her co-worker, Latrice Wilson, at $3,500 down payment and $500 monthly installment, thereafter, they would have a deal.

Manny Aguja first filed a petition for Dissolution of Marriage between Ernesto and Arlene Isip on April 5, 2004, citing failed marriage due to “irreconcilable differences” although they “are still together today.”

After “perfecting” the divorce papers for Ernesto Isip, Manny Aguja’s completed Ernesto’s immigration paper work for co-defendant Latrice Wilson, arranged by Cruz, falsely filing information that they were about to live “together and (are) intending to live together.”

Latrice Wilson’s fraudulent marriage is only one of about five fraudulent marriages in a conspiracy brought to court by Northern Illinois’ United States Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald and his assistant Jason A. Yonan involving Ms. Maria Cruz, Atty. Manny Aguja and Aguja’s twin brother, Marc Aguja, Celeste Ligutan-Lopez, Maria Fernandez, Sonia Maki, DeShawn Barksdale, Keisha McGary and Eugene Wilson.

Earlier, Maria Cruz, a native of Dipolog City in the Philippines, was sentenced to 33 months in prison as marriage “arranger” while Attorney Manny Aguja was sentenced to 24 months and  Manny’s twin brother Marc got “one year and one day” imprisonment term. The twins were both ordered to pay $10,000 fine each. Manny also gave up his law license.

Michael Wing, Judge Der-Yeghiayan’s courtroom deputy, told this reporter Keisha McGary will be sentenced on Feb. 29 at 10:30 a.m. while DeShawn Barksdale will also be sentenced on the same day later at 11:30 a.m. Sonia Maki is slated for sentencing on March 6 at 10 a.m. while Eugene Wilson will be sentenced on May 3, 2012 at 11 a.m.

Celeste Ligutan-Lopez and Maria Fernandez still have no sentencing dates.

Latrice Wilson was the first among the six of the ten defendants, who pleaded guilty to marriage fraud following their arrest in November 2009. The others, who followed Wilson’s guilty pleas, were Maria F. Cruz, 50, formerly of Chicago and currently living in American Canyon, California, and formerly a Cook County Traffic employee; Sonia Maki, 44, of Chicago; DeShawn Barksdale, 40, Maria Fernandez, 54, of Oakbrook, Illinois; and Keisha McGary, 34, of Chicago and a Cook County employee.

The four other defendants pleaded guilty later to one count each.

If any of the defendant went into trial and was found guilty, each of them could have earned a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and $250,000 fine for each count for violation of marriage fraud under Title 18, U.S. Code Sec. 3013. ([email protected])

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